Have you been tested? $6.5 million grant will help fight hepatitis C in the Rio Grande Valley

HARLINGEN — Valleyites are at a significantly greater risk for hepatitis C infection than people in other parts of the United States.

No one knows why for sure, but the Valley AIDS Council is trying to change that, says Rick Prieto, recovery specialist.

“It could be similar to other parts of the country, but other parts of the country have better access to medical care so their rates have decreased,” Prieto said.

In response to this higher rate of hepatitis C, a grant has been awarded to fund efforts to combat the problem.

The Valley AIDS Council is now partnering with several other organizations to identify people with disease.

The hepatitis C virus is a contagious liver disease spread primarily through the blood of someone who’s infected.

It can be contracted by sharing needles to inject illicit drugs, through blood transfusions and various other means.

“There have been verified cases in the last couple of years of Hep C transmission from people sharing drug straws, like a dollar bill rolled up,” Prieto said.

“That’s been documented, but again there’s still a lot of ongoing research. We don’t fully understand the nasal transmission. Twenty percent of people with Hep C don’t actually report any of these risk factors we’re talking about.”

Symptoms include fever, fatigue and nausea. Most people show no symptoms and don’t know they have the disease. It can be fatal if left untreated.